HOPE IN A GOD OF SURPRISES


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Isa 35:1-10; Ps 84:9-14; Lk 5:17-26  ]

Advent is a season of hope.  The fact that Advent occurs during the winter season will help us to identify with the mood and sentiments of the season.  Winter is the most difficult season in the Northern Hemisphere.   It is cold and some places are extremely windy.  Life for the poor, the jobless and elderly who live on the streets is very hard.  Cumbered with continuous rain and sometimes snowfall, it is miserable.  The weather is gloomy and the days are short.  The trees are bare and no fruits are found.  So we can imagine how much people in Europe hope that winter would soon be over.

Even though we may not be living in Europe, that does not preclude us from experiencing our own winter.  Many of us are just like the Israelites who were in exile and had lost all their land, temple and kingdom.  Like them, we feel hopeless, especially when we are having difficulty making ends meet with the numerous bills we have to pay, the arrears we owe, because we are sick or have lost our jobs.  We are worried about sustaining and maintaining our homes and family and taking care of our medical needs.  Indeed, life can be very trying.   Otherwise, we might be paralyzed like the man in the gospel, by our past, our sins and mistakes.  We cannot forgive ourselves for the mistakes we have made.  Now we are suffering the consequences of our guilt, inability to forgive, fears which prevent us from moving forward.

In such situations, when everything seems hopeless, what else can we do except to hope in God’s grace?   Having done all we humanly could, we can only turn to God for His mercy and grace.  So long as we have hope, we can carry on with life, even if it is just a silver lining on the cloud.  God is our hope.  This is what the season of Advent is assuring us.  Through Isaiah, the prophet, the Lord said, “Strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees and say to all faint hearts, ‘Courage! Do not be afraid. ‘Look, your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; he is coming to save you.'”

How can we find courage when we are faced with problems that seem so insurmountable and overwhelming on all sides?  The point of today’s scripture readings is that our God is a marvelous God who astonishes us again and again.  At the end of today’s gospel, the evangelist noted, “They were all astounded and praised God, and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.'”  This surely must have been the case of the paralyzed man.  He could not get out of his bed.  He was in a hopeless situation because no one could restore his health.  Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the work of the Messiah.  “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.”  God is coming to do new things for His people.  He comes to bring salvation and restoration. The response in the psalm says, “Look, our God is coming to save us.”

So, too, the Israelites when they were in exile.  It was unthinkable that God would inspire King Cyrus, a pagan King, to issue an edict allowing the Jews to return home to rebuild their homeland and Temple, and even supporting them logistically and financially.  But Isaiah gave them hope, “Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom, let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil, let it rejoice and sing for joy. The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God.”  Indeed, God promised them a renewal and a restoration that was unimaginable.  Not only would human beings be healed and able to sing for joy but even creation would be renewed, “for water gushes in the desert, streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake, the parched land springs of water.   The lairs where the jackals used to live become thickets of reed and papyrus.”

So what is needed to allow God to work His miracles in us?  We need faith.  When we think something is impossible, God surprises us.  We remember the words of the angels to Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Lk 1:37)  Elizabeth also remarked to Mary, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”  (Lk 1:45)  The Pharisees and the scribes did not have faith.  They delimited the grace of God from working in their lives and that of their listeners.  They expected God to work according to the laws established by God through to Moses.

So if Jesus did not work His miracles according to the confines of the law, then He must be a fake and not from God.  Indeed, this was what they thought.  They believed that the sickness of the man was due to His sins.  It was a punishment of God.  And so when Jesus forgave his sins, they were taken aback and scandalized.  They asked themselves, “Who is this man talking blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  To show that He could forgive sins and that the sins of this man were truly forgiven, the Lord said to the paralysed man, “‘I order you: get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.’ And immediately before their very own eyes he got up, picked up what he had been lying on and went home praising God.”  In this way, He proved to them “that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

Indeed, we must be open to the grace of God.  We should not impose our narrow-minded laws and expectations on the Lord.  We must take the Sacred Way of God as the prophet says, “And through it will run a highway undefiled which shall be called the Sacred Way; the unclean may not travel by it, nor fools stray along it. No lion will be there nor any fierce beast roam about it, but the redeemed will walk there, for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.  They will come to Zion shouting for joy, everlasting joy on their faces; joy and gladness will go with them and sorrow and lament be ended.”  God will accompany us and walk with us on this Holy Highway.   No one can harm us if we surrender ourselves to the Lord.

If we do, then the Lord will surprise us.  Just like the paralyzed man. Since he could not get in through the door, he was let down through the roof.  So too the Lord works in this manner.  If our doors are closed, He will open a window for us.  Our ways are not necessarily God’s way.   So we must be open and receptive and not be fixated in how we want God to help us.  We must open our minds in faith and discern how the Lord is reaching out to us through the many people, events and situations in our lives.

But we do not walk alone in faith.  God sends us messengers to inspire us and lead us.  This was the case of the paralyzed man.  He himself had no faith.  But some men carried the bed with the paralysed man to Jesus even though it was impossible to get him near Jesus.  But using their initiatives, “they went up on the flat roof and lowered him and his stretcher down through the tiles into the middle of the gathering, in front of Jesus.”  We read that “‘seeing their faith he said, ‘My friend, your sins are forgiven you.'”  The man was healed on account of the faith of his friends.  So too, God is continuing to send messengers and prophets to us, to edify us and encourage us to persevere and not to give up hope.  If we are lacking in faith, then we must cling on to the faith of others who have faith.  That is why we must never journey alone in our faith.  We need each other to help us along.  If we are alone, then we will lose faith in times of trials and difficulties.   No one can remain strong in his or her faith alone.  This is the mistake of many Catholics.  They lose their faith because they do not have good Catholic friends to share their faith and to support each other.

So let us take encouragement from the prayer of the psalmist.  He will come to save us and give us peace, for God is faithful and merciful.   “I will hear what the Lord God has to say, a voice that speaks of peace, peace for his people. His help is near for those who fear him and his glory will dwell in our land.  Mercy and faithfulness have met; justice and peace have embraced. Faithfulness shall spring from the earth and justice look down from heaven.”


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


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